Taking Aim

Battleship communications tower

Let go of the anger and the hurt so it does not destroy you, too.

Big, fat tears welled up in her eyes and spilled over, running down her cheeks. Her voice changed as she tried to talk around the lump in her throat. 

“But mommy, I’m going to miss all of my friends! Jackie and Bennet and Katie and all of my teachers…”

I wrapped my arms around her even tighter.

“I know, bug-a-boo, but we don’t know if your school is going to be there much longer and we need a plan B for just in case.”

“I miss my principal!” she wailed.

Changing schools at the start of a school year is hard. I remembered. But doing it suddenly like this mid year was going to be that much worse.

My son wiped tears from his wet face. “I am really going to miss my teachers.”

“I know, hon.”

You need to show a more charitable response.

They gutted the school in front of the kids. During class the teachers had to take down all of the wall and window decor. Furniture was moved. Locks were changed. The beloved principal was fired without warning while she was on vacation celebrating her wedding anniversary.

They’d promised nothing would change for the first year. It was November. Not even three months in.

Parents showed up and cussed out the new owner’s representatives. I rescheduled some patients and went up there myself to check on my own kids, to check on the teachers. Hollow eyed, people wandered about and spoke in hushed tones, shellshocked. 

Be a good steward, not just of your money, but also of your love. Give freely…

There were rumors teachers were being fired or resigning.

“I’m here for the kids. I will stick it out for the rest of the year no matter what. I can take a beating when it comes to those kids if need be. If THEY will let me…”

Meanwhile, the new owners refused to communicate with the parents or the teachers. The kids were left in a scary limbo. Friends were pulled out of classes and transferred to other schools with no opportunity to say goodbye.

Choose to show love when it is least expected.

I could not sleep. When I did sleep it was fitfully, dreaming nightmares that they were taking the kids and not letting us have them back.

The nightmare has been running for four days now in my brain, and it won’t shut off. I am struggling with what my response should be. The brain does crazy things under stress. How do you express that much anger, hurt, and betrayal in a sane way so that the person who did it can really understand? 

Would they understand?

Let my love for them show through you.

We tried out a new church because I will be transferring my kids to an Episcopal school and I wanted them to understand chapel. 

“Mom, why are they kneeling?”

“Mom, why did they take the book out into the aisle to read from it instead of up on the platform?”

“Why did he touch my forehead?”

It was part of the adventure. New church. New school. I found there was comfort in the symbolism and ritual.

“Come up to the front and get one of these crosses for your family then get one of these envelopes with $5 in it and use that this week to show kindness to someone else in a bold and daring way. Don’t just stick it into the Salvation Army donation bucket. DO something with it.”

And then I knew.

My response… 

Do something unexpected.
“It is not your fault what the new owners did to the kids and the parents and the staff. It was wrong, though, and I cannot keep my kids in this school. I do want you to know that I wish you luck as you try to repair the damage done to the relationships here. It is going to be a long road back.” I handed the new director a small gift bought with that $5 and gave her a hug. 

And then I walked away. 

Forever.

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Music to My Ears

River in the fall

“Your son has a lovely boy soprano voice. I would like for him to sing a solo at the Christmas program….”

“Mom! I get to sing! In front of everyone. She said I have a gift!” He beamed as he scrambled into his seat. 

I reread the note several times over the rest of the evening. My kid is special! Isn’t that what every parent longs to hear? And yet there was part of me that felt sad. Music might very well be the thing that takes him away from me. 

He is so brave, getting up in front of people to put himself on display like that. I would have been paralyzed by the prospect at his age. 

“You know there are boys choirs that travel all over the world,” I offered tentatively, imagining his sweet face singing Ave Maria on television. 

He loves music so much. He is playing piano in second grade at the level I was at when I was in junior high. It comes naturally to him somehow.

“I want to share my gift, Mom, but I don’t want to be away from you and dad.” He started to tear up. “I like being with my family…”

More than anything else, more than hearing that someone thinks my child has the voice of an angel, what I am most proud of is that my kid feels loved enough that he wants to hang with his family. 

He will spread his wings and fly off soon enough but he knows that he will always have a safe place to come back to. Well. At least until he turns 18. That is how I know that all of the difficult choices and sacrifices I have made are worth something. 

My kid feels whole.

That is the best gift of all. 

Thursday Thoughts From the Throne

Bones at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC
At first I told myself I would NOT write a grumbly post-Halloween post. I held off for a good whole week and a few days but here I am on the toilet stewing about it still and so I feel compelled to just spill my guts, literally and figuratively…

In case you were ever unsure, an adult taking their dog trick or treating is NOT cute if the adult is collecting candy, not wearing a costume, and there are no kids around. If you are an adult who does this, stop. Go ahead and dress up your dog or pup or hamster or whatever pet you can coax into a costume without getting your eyes clawed out and feel free to take a walk through the neighborhood. Show off. Just don’t go begging for candy. 

Second, rollling an infant around in a stroller asking for candy is on par with the pet thing. Sure, they are cute. Feel free to walk around and show them off. But trying to roll a stroller up my front steps is dangerous and we both know that bag of snickers and gobstoppers is not for anyone but you. Buy your own damn candy!

Kids with two bags collecting for a mysterious “ill” sibling…. yeah. If your brother really got sick and you want to do something truly noble, share your own candy half and half. THAT demonstrates love and sacrifice and I won’t be left wondering if that sibling really exists or not as you giggle while walking away with your two heavily laden bags.

And lastly, if you are a kid who shows up at the end of the night when my candy is running low, you may very well end up with a sucker or a box of Nerds because that is all I have left. You don’t like that? Don’t throw the candy on the ground and mutter some expletive as you storm off. I just gave out over 2,000 pieces of candy and you not liking the fact that I am out of chocolate reflects poorly on you, not me.

Ah…. Now that feels better!

Changing Times

Fall colors on the water

I love the fall. I love the colors, the pumpkins, the hint of cooler weather. I love the baking, wearing sweaters, fires in the fire place. I do not, however, love the time change.

Who likes it? That’s what I want to know. And if everyone hates it so much, why the hell hasn’t anyone changed it?!?!!??! Every year we all complain. There are news articles decrying the needlessness of it. And yet, it still happens. 

The dreaded “Fall Back”…

So, the time change alone is bad enough by itself but this year I also forgot to turn back my kids’ clocks so their alarms went off an hour too early yesterday morning. Gah. Who can remember to turn back ALL of their clocks? Worse? It was dark by the time I left work to go pick them up from school. 

Cranky kids. 

Cranky mom. 

For the next few months I will exist in a disorienting cave of darkness, a fugue state of sorts, confined to a building during daylight hours. My brain does not like this. It craves the feeling of sunlight on my skin, the deep red glow of sun filtered through closed eyelids. I find that this matters more and more to me each fall and winter. 

Bottom line? Gaining an hour of sleep is a farce. We don’t get more rest. We don’t have more energy. It is all a sorry pack of lies we tell ourselves every dang year. 

Real Terror Is….

Central Park, NYC

“Mommy, there is a fifth grader at school whose mommy had her when she was thirteen! Maybe I will get lucky and have a baby when I am thirteen. Then I will have someone to boss around.”

“Uh. Sweetheart. You don’t want to have a baby when you are thirteen.”

“Why not?” She was incredulous.

How to communicate that it is a terrible idea without tearing down the other girl’s mommy?

“Because having a baby when you are a teenager is generally frowned upon.” 

“Why?”

“A baby is a lot of responsibility. A lot of dirty diapers. Tons of poop. It is also very, very painful. You want to wait until your body is big enough.”

She was undeterred. “How do you get a baby?” There was silence as I pondered whether or not my six year old daughter was ready to learn the specifics about baby-making when suddenly she brightened up and blurted out, “Drinking alcohol. Is that how you do it?”

“Um. Yes? Sometimes?” My mind wandered to the patient who had recently gone on a so called booze cruise and came back pregnant with triplets…

“Alright!” She smiled sweetly at me, finally satisfied that now she knew the secret and then without missing a beat she said, “I am going to drink some alcohol.”

Lift

Bomber

There are times when the anxiety overwhelms. Pressure on my chest. Can’t breathe. A dysphoric and irrational sense of impending doom falls like a curtain, separating me from the rest of the world.

I need to move, to escape. 

But I can’t. 

Why? Why now?

It comes in phases. There are times when I fly through the day, a smile inside and out. I feel the joy. I am the joy.

And then? The darkness descends.

You aren’t good enough or smart enough. Someone is going to figure it out. Then everyone will know your secret. You don’t belong here.

I can’t focus. I type words that aren’t right and don’t make any sense. I cannot follow the conversations people try to have with me. My brain is paralyzed. No. My brain is in overdrive running from one imagined catastrophe to the next. I cannot sleep because I cannot make it stop.

“Doc, it’s like you know me. How do you understand it so well when I am not even sure how to describe everything?”

Because I am you.

Sometimes there is good reason for it, an event which serves as trigger. Like a supoena to testify in a patient’s lawsuit against an multi billion dollar international corporation. Sometimes there are dozens of good reasons for it. Being on call, stressful patients, behavior issues at school with my kids, extended family conflict, pressure from the suits, my virtual desktop at work is overflowing, the WordPress app reader is frizzing out again and I am missing posts, … Very often, though, there is no good reason at all.

It is then that the pill calls to me.

Die to live another day…

I keep a bottle with my name on it. Not to literally kill myself. Just to make life easier. Kill the anxiety. End the suffering. A pill a day to make the anxiety go away.

But I am a coward it turns out. I am not good at taking pills. I try to do other things. I take a hike in the woods. Being among the trees often helps. Instead, I get a bad case of poison ivy. I try attending an opera, but I can’t enjoy that because of the itching from the poison ivy. I buy a new skirt but it doesn’t fit because of the steroids for the poison ivy. I want to hug my kids…. hugs from my kids often helps… but good squeezes set off the itching again.

All I can do is laugh. There is nothing else left to do.

Suddenly I am rising up out of the abyss. 

Name Dropping

Interior, B25 Bomber
“Do you want to put on a flight suit?”

My daughter nodded, a grin starting to form. She had not been one bit happy about being dragged to an air show.

“They didn’t make flight suits that fit women so the ladies had to roll up the legs and sleeves to make them fit.” She zipped up the suit, then rolled up the cuffs. “Come on, I’ll show you how to fly!”

She helped my daughter scramble up the wing and into the cockpit and proceeded to explain how the instruments worked, letting her use the pedals and rudder.

“During World War II, women flew planes like this all over and in some cases taught the men how to fly…”

It was a fascinating thing watching the change that come over my daughter. She held her head higher. She seemed more confident. She positively glowed. It was a striking transformation.

The key?

Her brother was not getting to do this.

I used to think that girls just needed the same opportunities as boys but I am thinking that is maybe less true. If her brother had been there he would have commanded all of the attention. She would have faded to the background. She needed her own opportunity, her own experience. My daughter needed the woman in the B-25 bomber to pull her to the side specially and tell her that she flew in this plane all the time, that girls, that women, CAN do amazing things.

This post was going to be about how grateful I was for all of the women in the world who take the extra time to help girls understand their history, to understand science, to help them reach their dreams.

And then the Boy Scouts announced girls could join up.

Now, I’ll be honest. I know the Girl Scouts are not all about cookies necessarily but that is what the world knows them for. I never wanted to be in the Girl Scouts as a kid. I didn’t want to have to compete at selling cookies. I wanted to do what the Boy Scouts were doing, having adventures, learning survival skills, but I never wanted to join the Boy Scouts because… boys… ick.

As a parent I have not enrolled my kids in either scout program. I simply don’t have time to be jetting off to two meetings and doing camp outs and projects for two different organizations. So, on some level I see the appeal, having both kids in the same program. But girls need their own space to feel special. Too often they get lost in the male crowd. They need mentoring from strong women.

All of this begs the question, what is wrong with being a girl? Why do we have to be more like the boys? Why can’t we be successful and adventurous in our own right? Why do we have to join the boys?

Why do we have to sell cookies?

I don’t think girls who want to join the Boy Scouts are bad but part of me feels the “allowing” girls thing is a bit insulting and maybe a bit embarrassing. Come, girls, join the BOY Scouts! Is being a girl such a shameful thing? Is being different bad? For all of the emphasis on cookies, perhaps the message is that Girl Scouts have missed the point. They are no longer relevant. 

Thursday Thoughts From The Throne #4


Today’s’ thought is brought to you by my upstairs bathroom….

I am a huge fan of grandparents. I really love celebrating Grandparents Day. I do NOT, however, appreciate schools celebrating Grandparents Day by inviting everyone’s grandparents to come for some function or another. 

Here’s why:

  1. They are invariably disorganized.
  2. There are always a fair number of kids whose grandparents are dead or live too far away to come.

My kids are blessed that they have a grandmother who comes to these things but I have each year encountered the kids who don’t, who are stashed in a back room looking forlorn and left out. It tugs at my heart. 

This year my kids were supposed to write letters and make artwork for their grandparents. Earlier this year their PawPaw died. My son’s letter read like this:

Dear grandfather, I wish I could still speak with you. Even if I will not see you, I will always keep you in my heart.

He gave it to his Granny instead. 

It was good on some level, helping the kids work through their grief but I sure do wish the exchange could have been done privately instead of in front of the whole assembly, putting their grief and their grandmother’s grief on display. 

And that is all my butt has time for today!

The Twelfth 

World Trade Center

“Mommy, why are there so many police everywhere?”

I looked around. She was right. They stood on every street corner it seemed, decked out in bulky bullet proof vests. New York City, more than any other city in the world that I have visited, possesses a very visible police force. No longer simply protecting us from each other, they stood ready to protect us from them.

Did it make me feel safer? 

Yes. Yes it did.

I grabbed my daughter’s hand as we crossed the street with the crowd of other people. The Empire State Building rose up in the distance. 

“Are you going to take your kids to the 9/11 museum?”

They are six and seven.

“No. They aren’t ready for that yet.”

I’m not ready for that yet.

I dropped my purse and camera into a bin and wiggled out of my jacket, sending it and my ball cap through the scanner then stepped through the metal detector. The security guard nodded silently. We were free to move on to the next staging area. 

“Mom, why is it that everywhere we go here is like the airport?” my son asked.

In truth this was the forth scanner we had walked through on this trip. Long lines made longer by strict security. Stress. My kids felt it. So did I.

“Some years ago there was an attack on two tall buildings here in New York. They collapsed and thousands of people died. There are people who hate Americans and want to hurt them so the police and all of the security measures are trying to prevent something from happening like that again.”

Watching the towers collapse over and over again on the news feed at the clinic between patients, the world shifted. It wasn’t until the next day, as the dust was settling, that it became apparent just how much it had shifted. 

My kids seemed to take in the information and I braced myself for more questions, for fear, or even tears from my daughter, but there was nothing. 

Nothing.

This is their world. They don’t know what it was like before 9/11, a world where simply being American carried with it a certain degree of power and respect. They didn’t feel that shift. They will only know a September 12th world, a world where they are targets. 

Missing Out

IMG_1621
“Why can’t I go?” I held the paper clutched to my chest. I’d earned a trip to a church summer camp for free. My ticket out of my own little hell for two weeks. I needed this. Never had I been allowed to go to camp. Up to that point I had been led to believe it was a money issue.

Please let her say yes, God. Please, please make her say yes. I promise to go to South America to do mission work when I grow up if you will just let me have this one thing!

My mother stood silently, her face turned away. 

“Mom! Why won’t you answer me?”

Her body stiffened. 

Finally, her back still turned to me, she answered:

“Because I never got to do something like that.” 

And then it dawned on me. My mother, my own mother, was jealous of me. Jealous of this opportunity. Was there more to it? Probably. But there was an undercurrent of envy and that was what I latched onto.

I judged her harshly.

How can you be jealous of your own daughter? What kind of person does that make you?

It struck me yesterday, listening to my son and daughter practicing on the piano, that I am envious of them. I am jealous that they get the opportunity to have piano lessons from a real teacher. I am jealous of my son’s spelling and math ability, how easily music comes to him. I am jealous of my daughter’s artistic creativity, her ability to easily make friends, and her extensive glitter pen collection. What I could have done with even a couple of those glitter pens back in the day… 

Even now I don’t understand all of the reason behind my mother’s refusal but I did learn an important lesson. I learned I could survive without church camp. I also learned, and a great big wave of relief washes over me even now when I think about it, that God did not *want* me to serve as a missionary in South America. 

Whew.

So where am I going with all of this?

Envy was a surprising emotion to recognize in myself and I find it embarrassing to admit. It snuck up on me. Since I am not a particularly unique person and I am living on this planet with billions of other not so unique people, I expect this means that other parents also experience jealousy when it comes to their kids. I wonder how many?

We all want to believe that we are somehow better than our parents, though, don’t we? 

And yet we aren’t.

I expect that maybe even more than my kids’ glitter pens and the piano lessons that I am most jealous of their youth…. those unexplored futures, the potential looming ahead of them. I wonder if this is simply because I am an older parent, or if younger parents feel this acutely, too.

Ultimately, I don’t intend for jealousy to motivate my saying “no” to things in the future… except maybe if my daughter wants to go out for cheerleading.